Thursday, March 18, 2010

Foaming at the Mouth

From the '95 TSR "Code of Ethics":


The use of religion in TSR products is to assist in clarifying the struggle between good and evil. Actual current religions are not to be depicted, ridiculed, or attacked in any way that promotes disrespect. Ancient or mythological religions, such as those prevalent in ancient Grecian, Roman and Norse societies, may be portrayed in their historic roles (in compliance with this Code of Ethics.) Any depiction of any fantasy religion is not intended as a presentation of an alternative form of worship.


Fantasy literature is distinguished by the presence of magic, super-science or artificial technology that exceeds natural law. The devices are to be portrayed as fictional and used for dramatic effect. They should not appear to be drawn from reality. Actual rituals (spells, incantations, sacrifices, etc.), weapon designs, illegal devices, and other activities of criminal or distasteful nature shall not be presented or provided as reference.

From the Chick Publications webpage today:

On top of that, the second issue is that the materials themselves, in many cases, contain authentic magical rituals. I can tell you this from my own experience. I was a witch high priest (Alexandrian tradition) during the period 1973-84. During some of that period (1976-80) I was also involved in hardcore Satanism. We studied and practiced and trained more than 175 people in the Craft. Our "covendom" was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; just a short drive away from the world headquarters of TSR, the company which makes Dungeons and Dragons in Lake Geneva, WI. In the late 1970's, a couple of the game writers actually came to my wife and I as prominent "sorcerers" in the community. They wanted to make certain the rituals were authentic. For the most part, they are.

(Emphasis in the original.)

Yeah, you and I know that there are no rituals listed in any of the D&D books, but that clearly doesn't matter, does it? This is why it's not worth the effort to jump through hoops like the above nonsense in the Code of Ethics; it only annoys your customers and does absolutely nothing to placate the loonies.

Art by Pieter the Elder Bruegel.


Badmike said...

Except that had any material TSR released at the time HAD authentic witchcraft or Wicca rituals, we wouldn't be able to look at the Chick Publications nonsense and say they were "loonies" since they could point to actual instances in the games themselves that duplicated rituals. This way, it's clear to anyone who played the game they are simply making all of that up.

I have zero problems with the TSR code of ethics as written as it never effected my personal gaming habits.

Greg Christopher said...

I wouldnt get too upset about this, Trollsmyth. This is probably just the case of some dumb fuck lying to make themselves sound cooler to their new fanclub.

Anonymous said...

As a corporate entity, and therefore likely to be sued at some point, the code of ethics makes a lot of sense for TSR because there are loonies out there like the ones who feed drivel to Chick Publications.

Now the 1995 TSR Code may have gone a bit too far but the reasons behind it make sense.

Unknown said...

The TSR code is pretty standard. Especially for the era in which it existed. Keep in mind their games clearly said "Ages 10+" on the covers.

trollsmyth said...

All good points. I'll counter, however, that:

* it's not the lack of ritual material that makes Chick & Co. loonies. It's the fact that they think I actually *can* summon an Elder One by following the instructions in Carcosa. The additional fact that what they describe as an average RPG session bears almost no resemblance at all to what actually happens is just icing on the cake.

* the Code of Ethics does nothing to prevent lawsuits. It may make it easier to win such suits, but that is all. It may forestall legislative action (as the Comics Code and the voluntary rating system for computer games were designed to do), but pen-and-paper RPGs are hardly on the radar of any legislative bodies now, nor are they likely to be in the future.

* while the games do say "10 and up" they are aimed at the same audience as the Harry Potter books. (And that said, Rowling can handle delicate subjects with class and skill. Can the same be said about your average 11-year-old? But on the third hand, does avoiding the topic make it more likely that 11-year-olds will also avoid it, or only insure that they tackle it without guidance?)

At the end of the day, I believe that the Code of Ethics embraced by TSR during '90s to insulate them from Angry Mothers also insulated them from customers and left them vulnerable to White Wolf, who eagerly staked out more adult territory for their products. The urge to embrace such things is certainly understandable, but we shouldn't pretend that it's the only way, or even the best way, to deal with such matters.

Unknown said...

I'm getting confused about whether this is a look back at RPG history, or if you're discussing how this pertains to things today. TSR doesn't exist anymore. Nobody takes Jack Chick seriously. Carcosa was only published in the last year or two.

Even for more modern publications I'm not sure if there was anything in Harry Potter (for example) that wouldn't have made it past TSR's code of conduct. (It's been a while since I read them, and I could be wrong)

Badmike said...

Honestly I think TSR putting out lame ass crap like Dragon Dice, Spellfire cards, trading cards and support for far too many game worlds has more to do with their fall than failure staking out more adult category. As a father (and now grandfather) I really don't want to have to censer gaming material, so a lot of "newer" stuff won't make it to my table in lieu of the older, "tamer" TSR stuff. And I can't remember lots of gamers back in the mid-90s clamoring for a "more Vampire-like" experience at the gaming table :)

trollsmyth said...

Stuart: It's a look back with an eye towards deriving lessons for the future.

Potter would have been very problematic. Beyond it's generally negative portrayal of authority figures, scenes like the ritual at the end of Goblet of Fire that resurrect Voldemort would have tripped up the sections I quoted here.

Badmike: Bad management in general seems to have been an issue, though I hear the final straw was getting saddled with massive amounts of buy-backs from bookstores.

I saw a lot of "adult themes" in the gaming around me in the '90s, but I was also in college at the time, and the plural of anecdote ain't data, so that may very well have just been us. While Mr. Raggi seems to be doing ok, I doubt he's threatening to eclipse Paizo's numbers, forget WotC's. I can certainly understand why you'd want a tamer product you could tailor for play with your grandkids. I'm just glad there are folks out there like Raggi doing something different.

Badmike said...

Trollsmyth: That's why I have such a love of D&D; it can support the "Harry Potter" version and "James Raggi" version of play without changing up the rules themselves.

And OT, but I remember reading somewhere that the buy backs on the Dragon Dice and Spellfire cards (as you state) were the ruin of TSR, as they were (like the books) fully returnable for credit by Waldens, etc when they didn't sell (which they didn't).

Unknown said...

I don't think Potter would be problematic at all. The authority figures are generally seen as good (Dumbledore, McGonagall, etc) and when we get one that isn't (e.g. Umbridge) then "When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice." The Voldemort resurrection didn't seem like it was based on "Real" Satanism or "Actual Spells". Keep in mind that 2e still had all the same undead and "raise dead" type spells.

If you're writing books/games for kids you just aren't going to be presenting them with the same content you would if you're writing for 18+ with an interest in nihilism, gore, freak out my parents sexy-time and similar topics. :)

Are there specific RPG examples of things you think the big publishers should be doing that they aren't? Or do you feel there's a trend towards changing the way things are now in a way you don't like?

trollsmyth said...

I never got the feeling that being based on "real Satanism" was as much a no-no as having rituals at all.

As for Potter, the corrupt and stupid officials, like Fudge and even his "better" replacement at the end of Half-blood Prince remained in power and influential until pretty much the end of the series. It certainly seemed to promote mistrust and disdain for the Powers That Be who were always trying to replace Dumbledore and silence any talk of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

As for the way things are right now, I'm loving that there seems to be room for Faery's Tale and WitchGirl Adventures and Death Frost Doom and Carcosa on our bookshelves. This, I think, is one of the strengths of having lots of smaller publishers each crafting their own vision of what RPGs could/should be like. What I don't want to see is the sort of cold wind we had blowing through the industry in the mid '80s which seemed eager to sanitize everything to protect us from the loonies and Angry Mothers.

Unknown said...

All of that stuff was a "wrong that must be righted" in the HP narrative. It wasn't the nature of authority, otherwise Hogwarts would have been depicted as someplace to escape from rather than the wonderful school we like going to and being instructed at. :)

It's hard to compare what a company decides to publish and what an individual decides to self publish. Particularly a book like Carcosa since it's not available anyplace except by sending an email to the writer and getting him to mail you a copy.

You and I, if we wanted to, could create a self-published Alestair Crowley RPG with *really* authentic spells and rituals. We could just keep piling on stuff we thought would freak people out until we were happy with it. We could put up a blog post saying "send us $10 and we'll send you the book -- SPLATTERED IN PIG BLOOD!!!"

What we choose to do as individuals and what a company chooses to do (and invest larger amounts of $ into) is pretty different. :)

Badmike said...

"You and I, if we wanted to, could create a self-published Alestair Crowley RPG with *really* authentic spells and rituals. We could just keep piling on stuff we thought would freak people out until we were happy with it. We could put up a blog post saying "send us $10 and we'll send you the book -- SPLATTERED IN PIG BLOOD!!!"

Ok, Stuart, you've sold a copy! I'd buy it for collectible purposes only, of course....;)

Unknown said...


When I was in University one of my friends (actually one of the guys in our current gaming group) published a mail-order zine. For artwork it had photos of autopsies and associated "freaky" stuff from medical textbooks about things-that-are-not-right. Everything was ridiculously over the top in a trying to outdo Cannibal Corpse sort of way.

The whole thing was pretty juvenile in retrospect. :)

I'm sure there are still copies... maybe we could just put some RPG dice on the cover, and we'd be good to go! LOL.

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

> does absolutely nothing to placate the loonies.

In the case of TSR of that timeperiod I'm fairly certain the loonies were in charge.